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For InBev, clash of cultures is nothing new

DIADEMA, Brazil — Brazilian-managed beverage giant InBev isn't a household name in the United States, but its high-octane corporate culture could easily overwhelm the iconic U.S. brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos.

At InBev, a work atmosphere reminiscent of an athletic locker room is a key ingredient in a culture that includes ferocious cost-cutting and lucrative incentive-based compensation programs. The work ethic is largely the design of Jorge Paulo Lemann, a former Brazilian tennis champion who is one of InBev's chief shareholders. The Harvard-educated Lemann, 68, has borrowed management techniques from such corporations as Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and PepsiCo Inc., while adding a dash of Brazilian verve and flexibility.

Since the company was formed four years ago, InBev has built a presence in 130 countries with 200 brands, including Stella Artois, Beck's, Labatt Blue and Brahma, and Lemann and his principal Brazilian partners, Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira, have become billionaires.

Busch managers considering a coupling with Lemann's company can't be encouraged by the fate of the managers of Belgium's Interbrew SA, which merged with Lemann's AmBev in 2004 in a deal valued at about $11-billion to form InBev. Though the combined company had its headquarters in Belgium and an ex-Interbrew executive as its first CEO, the go-go Brazilians soon turned the tables on Interbrew. Brazilian Carlos Brito, 48, replaced the older Interbrew executive in the CEO's post in December 2005, and Brazilians have moved into most of the top positions.

In a February talk at Stanford University Business School, where he himself was trained, Brito suggested that AmBev's business culture amounts to an irresistible force.

"At Ambev, we had this culture that ... has never changed," he said. At Interbrew, "they grew by acquiring existing businesses, and they didn't have a culture of (their) own."

He said Interbrew was ripe for AmBev's embrace and ready to accept a new way of doing things.

For InBev, clash of cultures is nothing new 05/31/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 4:47pm]
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